Formed in 1918, the RAF was the world’s first independent air force. In 2018 it celebrates its 100th birthday.
Bournemouth Airport and the RAF have a long and proud shared history. And so, as part of the RAF’s centenary celebrations, this is the story of how Bournemouth Airport played a key role, in helping the RAF, to protect the people of Britain during wartime.
Bournemouth Airport, situated on the edge of the village Hurn in Christchurch was the base of RAF Hurn, the former World War II airfield opened in 1941. During the war, Hurn was used by both the RAF and the United States Army Airforces (USAAF) as a transport and fighter airfield. Hurn was used initially as a satellite station to RAF Ibsley but following the extension of their runways, became a major base.
As part of its wartime duties, Hurn was one of the airfields established by the RAF to counter the Luftwaffe presence across the Channel in northern France. RAF Hurn would go on to serve as a base for the development of radar in aircraft and for bombers and fighter-bombers supporting the D-Day invasion of France. It was home to a range of aircraft including Spitfires, Wellingtons and Typhoons and towards the end of 1942, became the base for a number of US squadrons, passing into the hands of the USAAF. Its first American residents were P-61s of the 422nd Night Fighter Squadron.
Hurn was known as USAAF Station AAF-492 for security reasons by the USAAF during the war, and its USAAF Station Code was “KU”. Handed back to the RAF in October 1944, the site was transferred to the control of Ministry of Civil Aviation and shortly after became Bournemouth Airport.
Paddy the Pigeon: a wartime hero
During the war, it wasn’t just aircraft that took to the skies in the defence of Britain. Thousands of pigeons were enlisted into the RAF and were vital contributors to military operations. One such messenger pigeon was ‘Paddy’, trained and stationed in lofts at RAF Hurn.
Prior to the D-Day Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, Paddy was delivered to Hurn and two days later, he was among thirty pigeons taken to France by a unit of the First US Army. Paddy was released at 8.15 a.m. on June 12 1944, carrying coded information on the Allied advance, and returned back to his home loft at RAF Hurn in a record-breaking 4 hours and 50 minutes. This was the fastest time recorded by a message carrying pigeon and, in recognition of his remarkable contribution; Paddy was awarded the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Paddy’s medal was later sold to a pigeon fancier at auction for £7,000 and a memorial plaque can be found on the harbour wall of Paddy’s home town in Carnlough, Northern Ireland.
Although Paddy is one of the heroes of the war, many pigeons were killed in the line of duty, flying through dangerous skies, targeted by the enemy.
After the end of the war Hurn went on to be Britain’s main international airport and in recent years, the RAF Red Arrows used Bournemouth Airport as a stop-off before flying out to be part of the Queen’s Jubilee flypast over Windsor Castle and have used the airport as a base ahead of their displays.
For more on the RAF’s first 100 years, visit www.raf.mod.uk/raf100/
Be part of the next 100 years?
Being part of the RAF is no ordinary job.
The Royal Air Force defends the United Kingdom from the skies, and it also protects and promotes peace across the globe by responding to threats, preventing conflict, delivering aid and combating cyber threats.
At this very moment, the RAF is engaged in 13 missions, on four continents, in 22 countries in its quest to promote peace and stability across the globe.
The nature of the RAF’s role is changing and that means the variety of skills it needs is changing too.
The RAF trains and develops world class pilots. But it also develops engineers, aircraft technicians, logistics specialists, cyberspace communication experts, medics, information analysts, catering and hospitality teams, HR and personnel support, musicians, chaplains, drivers, firefighters and many more.
A vibrant apprenticeship programme offers opportunities to young people from sixteen years of age.
Visit www.raf.mod.uk/recruitment/ to find out more.